Tag Archives: Anger

A bit of a rant about “Skivers and Strivers”

On my way to the studio this afternoon I was listening to the radio and heard something that really annoyed me. I’m not sure what it was, since it was a short journey and I didn’t hear the beginning or end of the programme, but it was someone on Radio 4 talking about “skivers and strivers”. I can’t help feeling that these terms are noxious Cameronite propaganda designed to make people who have recently been shafted by a double dip recession and subsequent high unemployment rates feel bad about themselves. Anyway, some middle-aged man was putting his perfect elocution to questionable use by attempting to describe the frustration experienced by commendable, hardworking “strivers” when they get up for work early in the morning and see curtains closed in houses across the road, where idle benefit-scrounging “skivers” are lolling around in bed. Much was made of an anecdote about a jobseeker who dared express a preference for jobs that started later in the morning, maybe after 9.30am.

I know you should never get too riled up by anything taken out of context, but I was angry. By the time I’d taught today’s session, got home and done some domestic bit and pieces, I was still annoyed. My computer doesn’t get along well enough with BBC iplayer to let me listen to the programme now – which is probably quite a good thing, since throwing things at people talking in my computer is not the greatest idea – so I am writing this blog post from a position of partial ignorance. Perhaps all the points I intend to make in this post were made later in the programme. I hope they were, although I doubt it. Either way, I’ll make them here.

What really infuriates me about that man’s attitude is how rigid and unrealistic his view of what constitutes a work ethic is. You have no idea who is behind those closed curtains. Ever heard of a night shift? The person you’re branding lazy and a “skiver” might very well have been up all night putting out fires or caring for the sick and dying. The people who do those jobs are already underpaid and undervalued – let’s at least do them the courtesy of allowing them to sleep when they’re not at work.

There are also plenty of people who might not be doing lifesaving work but whose hours are not 9 – 5 or any approximation thereof, and we don’t deserve Plummy Radio Man’s condemnation either. Personally, I tend to wake up some time between ten and eleven. I’m usually online within half an hour of getting up. I faff about on social media for a bit while the caffeine kicks in, but social media isn’t just a toy for me – in amongst the cat pictures and updates about lunch choices, there are links to all sorts of things that are important to a freelance theatremaker. I hear about companies, submission deadlines, development schemes and industry news this way.

Then as my brain wakes up, I start replying to emails, writing budgets, plans and applications and drafting articles and blog posts that I’ll revisit and shape properly later in the day. Some days I teach, in which case I head in to the studio. Some days I edit and feed back on other people’s scripts, in which case I stay at home and probably remain in my pyjamas and wrapped in blankets for warmth. Some days I have meetings to go to. Sometimes I have rehearsals.

In the evenings I might be teaching, rehearsing, in meetings, at the theatre or some other event where I can network and meet collaborators and keep an eye on what’s happening in my area of the industry. Or I might be in front of my laptop working on a plan, budget, article or script. If I’m out during the evening, I’ll be back on the computer when I get home. I keep working until shortly before I go to bed, usually between 2 and 3am.

Now, I’m not saying I have my nose to the grindstone from 11am until 3am. Of course I have breaks and slack times and sneaky reads of sites that are nothing to do with anything. I play with the cat, I antagonise my husband (who also works from home much of the time). What I am saying is that I don’t have much of a social life or straightforward non-working time. I’m mentally on call all day, every day (which is not a complaint, by the way, it’s one of the things I love about my life and work because it’s how my brain works anyway). I don’t have many friends who aren’t also collaborators, so although I spend a lot of time with my friends it’s rarely just social. We have work meetings and we cram our catch-ups into the gaps.

On Sundays, Jen rests. I don’t check email, I switch my phone off. If I’m online it’s for entertainment purposes. I avoid company other than cat and husband. I cook. I spend ages reading in the bath. I try not to write, although I don’t always succeed in this.

Like I said, I’m not complaining about what my work life involves. It’s busy, but it’s great. I wish it involved a little more actual earning of money – financially I’d be better off on benefits – but we get by. It might be a while before we can afford a holiday, but as you can see from the above, I don’t have a particularly healthy attitude towards time off. I’m quite happy to work long hours because I enjoy what I do and as Noel Coward said, work is so much more fun than fun.

Just don’t dare tell me I don’t have a work ethic simply because I don’t start work by 9am. I’ve lived my life for a long time and know I don’t function well in the mornings. Even when I was living in London and the alarm went off at 5:50am each day so I could be on the tube a little after 7, I was never on form in the mornings. I know when I work best and I make the most of being freelance to allow me to work during my most productive hours. Does this somehow make me a “skiver”? By Plummy Radio Man’s standards, probably, since apparently only jobs that require you to be in work by 9am count as respectable employment.

Well, I suppose theatre was never considered the most respectable of professions. I can live with that. It’s not so much that I feel personally offended by Plummy Radio Man’s views. It’s more that I find this ideology of “skivers and strivers” and the demonising of those on benefits deeply disturbing. If it’s irritating to be a self-employed freelancer facing criticism for not working at the correct times of day, it must be soul-destroying to be a chronically ill person who can’t work and perhaps sleeps more than the average eight hours due to high levels of pain or medication side-effects. Or to be someone who had a job until they lost it due to the lovely double dip recession that they didn’t cause, and who hasn’t been able to find another one. Or to be someone who has never had a job because they stepped straight from education into high youth unemployment, where some bright spark wants to swap jobs that didn’t pay a living wage to begin with for Workfare placements that don’t pay at all and where unpaid internships have become commonplace?

I must stop before I become too irate to be coherent. I hope Radio 4 had someone putting another point of view. This “one size fits all” way of thinking, this ridiculously naive idea that anyone who isn’t employed and wealthy just doesn’t want to work, is dangerous. It chips away at the confidence of everyone who doesn’t currently fit that image. It erodes our freedom to choose a path other than one that leads to a 9 – 5 job and diminishes our respect for those who do take those paths. If you want to be cared for in hospital, have emergency services available round the clock or even simply to have someone pour your pint when you go to the pub or write the play that you go to see after work, you should respect the fact that they might not work the same hours as you. They’re not “skivers”, and the fact that there’s a small number of people out there to whom that label could accurately be applied does not excuse its sloppy, inaccurate and degrading application to anyone who might have good reason to be asleep while others commute.


Being the Squeaky Wheel

I’m not going to assume that everyone knows the expression “the squeaky wheel gets  the grease”, since I actually got through the first 20 years of my life without encountering it. It’s a phrase used to encapsulate the idea that the people who make the most noise are the ones who get what they want.

This idea is completely opposed to what I was taught growing up. Over and over again I was told that you don’t get what you want by shouting or demanding or even just being politely explicit. You get what you want by working for it quietly (and methodically, which was the bit I always struggled with) and if what you do has sufficient merit you will get what you want. You don’t kick up a fuss about why you’re more deserving than anyone who might want the same thing, you just trust that if you’ve done what you need to do, you’ll get out what you put in.

Realising that life is not like that has been an ongoing process for the past 30 years, but it’s such a deeply-held belief of mine that I feel I am constantly locking horns with life because of it. Surely life should be like that? It should be possible? I can’t quite let go of that idea, even though I’ve been shown time and again that life actually favours the squeaky wheels. (Surely when you can see clearly that something you believe is wrong it should be possible to discard or even just adjust that belief? That would be the rational thing to do, and I get very frustrated when I can see the rational path before me and can’t allow myself to take it. I also get frustrated that I can never type the word ‘frustrated’ accurately on the first attempt.)

I see it to a certain extent in my professional life, but it’s a necessary evil there. It really isn’t enough for a writer, director or actor simply to do their work well and honestly and hope their merits will be recognised, because there are countless others out there who are just as meritorious and there aren’t enough opportunities to go round. In addition to having merit, you must also be good at publicising yourself (unless you’re born very well-connected or you get a particularly lucky break, in which case count your blessings). It’s a pretty common frustration, since few of us seem to like doing self-publicity and everyone seems to think that everyone else is better at it than they are.

However, at the moment it’s more of an issue in my domestic life than my professional one. I dread things going wrong around the house, because if it’s anything that necessitates dealing with insurance companies I know I’m going to have to be the squeaky wheel. Yesterday, while I was still in my pyjamas and considering going back to bed with a splitting headache, our downstairs neighbour came to let us know that there was a leak from our flat coming through his ceiling. A bit of searching revealed that the leak was coming from our combi boiler. We have insurance through Shield, so I called them and asked for an engineer.

Getting on for 5pm, I called again to ask where the engineer was. I know they have call-outs until 11pm, but I’ve also been through this often enough to know that if you don’t have the engineer on site before 6pm your chances of getting things fixed that day decrease considerably. I’m also still in a bad mood with Shield since the engineer they sent out to do a routine service last November told us we had a carbon monoxide leak and left us without heat or hot water for three days, only for a second engineer to come out to finish the job and tell us that there hadn’t actually been a leak in the first place and that the first engineer had misread his monitor. At least this time we can see there’s a leak, but I’m still not thrilled by having our heating and hot water cut off in January. I have spinal problems that cause me a lot of muscle tension and I rely on hot water to keep the pain under control, so the cold water thing gets old fast.

So the engineer comes out, does his thing, says that he has to order parts and will be back in the morning. He orders all the parts he could possibly need. His supervisor refuses to authorise the more expensive parts. I make it clear that I am not going to be happy if those turn out to be the parts we needed. This morning comes. No engineer. I phone up to find out what is happening. I’m told that the job isn’t booked in for today but they’ll try and get someone out this evening.

This is the difficult bit. On the one hand, this is completely unacceptable. We pay for this insurance – by the logic I grew up with, we have quietly and regularly fulfilled our end of the bargain. What should happen next is that Shield fulfils theirs, quickly and with minimum fuss, and this should require no more from me than calling the problem in. We certainly shouldn’t be facing another indefinite period without heat a mere two months after the last time, especially as the boiler was fine until we had it serviced and has been nothing but trouble ever since. Since I am obviously going to have to be the squeaky wheel, I would prefer not to do do it by halves. A nuclear loss of temper would be really, really satisfying.

On the other hand, I’m on the phone to some poor girl who is not being paid enough to deal with me raging at her. It is also not her fault. She’s just telling me what comes up on her screen. Losing my temper with her would hardly be fair. But what she is telling me is that this problem cannot be resolved quickly and without us spending days huddled round the halogen heater, and as long as I remain calm this is what she continues to tell me. Honey is not working. It is only when I become somewhat vinegary that she agrees to put me through to her manager. When I speak to the manager my tone is emphatic, not impolite but obviously angry. Suddenly it becomes possible to get an engineer out today.

By 16.30 we had heating and hot water again. I’m pleased about that. However, we only have it because I got angry and won an argument. I’m quite good at winning these arguments, but I don’t like myself afterwards. Getting angry is a loss of control and I’m not a fan of those. I’m not sure to what extent my frustration grows from disappointment in myself for letting myself give in to the rage and to what extent it comes from having to do this in order to obtain a service I’ve already paid for. If I hadn’t argued so vehemently we would still be waiting for the initial appointment, never mind having the boiler fixed. The squeaky wheel did indeed get the grease – but damn it, it shouldn’t be this way and I don’t know how to let go of that. Perhaps more on that way of thinking in a future post. Perhaps not. We’ll see. I’m exhausted and drained and not committing myself to anything I might later regret…

At least I can say this much – as miserable as the experience was, it was a hell of a lot easier going through it with my husband than on my own. We raged together, then later we laughed together and rejoiced in being able to have showers and baths again. Now we’re blowing off a bit of steam, in his case killing video game monsters and in my case telling the interwebs all about it. Time for tea, chocolate brownies and then bed, in the hope that tomorrow will be better than the last two days. This particular wheel has done enough squeaking for now.